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Moving Beyond Talent Acquisition: Thoughts from Two Not-for-Profit Experts on Effective Employee Engagement

Photo of candidates waiting for a job interview

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Muhammed Chaudhry

Muhammed Chaudhry

Jim Blackie

Jim Blackie

Special to the Philanthropy Journal

Muhammed Chaudhry and Jim Blackie

While not-for-profit organizations and their for-profit counterparts share similar struggles in recruiting and retaining exceptional employees, not-for-profits face specific challenges. This is especially true when competing for a limited pool of quality talent against companies that may have more money to offer.

People who thrive in the not-for-profit world are particularly passionate about making a difference through their work. They crave a work environment that welcomes their passion. Because of these factors, not-for-profits are poised to attract amazing talent. Doing the extra work to engage passionate employees is the best path toward building a winning and sustainable not-for-profit organization.

Stop acquiring talent and start welcoming people

TriNet logoFirst, not-for-profit organizations should move their mindset away from thinking of hiring as “talent acquisition.” To say one “acquires” talent indicates an archaic approach to building teams that ultimately impact a not-for-profit organization’s long-term sustainability. When not-for-profit leaders make the mistake of thinking about “acquiring talent,” you unknowingly enter a transaction mindset and discredit the unique role that person plays in your organization. 

Great employees are not just talent to be acquired. Rather, great employees are human beings you must seek out, engage and inspire to join your teams based on common values, mission and sense of purpose.

Think beyond the paycheck

While it will always be important to compensate employees fairly if you want them to stick around, not-for-profit organizations can’t provide stock options and don’t always have the money to reward staff with extravagant bonuses or other expensive perks. Instead, not-for-profits must focus on engaging future organizational leaders at a level deeper than monetary reward.

If you think beyond “acquiring” talent, you are treating your employee as a person and can then work to provide them with perks and benefits that are more fitting for their needs and your bottom line.

For example, consider how you can develop a culture where employees feel heard – where they are frequently told their work is valuable and where they can see firsthand the impact their work has on the company’s mission. Millennial employees, in particular, thrive when they are presented with developmental opportunities and a chance to prove themselves by contributing beyond their job description. This sort of leadership development is a win-win for you and them.

Other inexpensive yet coveted perks include flexible working hours, the ability to work remotely a couple of days a week and a jovial office environment. These types of offerings all do a lot to convince employees to keep working for you when other companies come around offering them more money.

Hiring for shared values
Every company wants employees who believe in their mission. In the not-for-profit world, placing strong value on the organization’s mission is a requirement.

Smart not-for-profit leaders focus their hiring process on alignment. Alignment happens when the values of your employees are in line with the values of your organization. Alignment is key to sustainable hiring:

  • First, you get to know your candidate’s value system. What do they value in life? What motivates them? What do they want from an employer?
  • Then, ask yourself if you are able to provide these things to keep them happy at your organization. If you are not currently offering these attributes, should you?
  • Once you have determined a value fit, ask what impact this employee would have on your organizational culture. Will they be able to make a positive contribution to the way your current team operates?

Conversely, when the initial focus isn’t on finding employees with shared common values, it becomes nearly impossible to build the trust and teamwork necessary to ensure long-term growth. And when there’s no alignment between your new employees and your organization’s values, your organization suffers from the high cost of turnover, recruiting and training.  

Think long-term
In order to maximize your investment in hiring top talent, you must think long-term. Start from a base of shared values and a happy work environment. Then keep the developmental opportunities, communication avenues, and collaborative spirit alive as your employees grow with your company.

All of these factors combined result in a tailored not-for-profit hiring solution that helps recruit the best employees for your organization and make for a great long-term investment.

Silicon Valley LogoInterestingly, you can also apply the same principles to alternate audiences. For example, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation (SVEF) uses the aforementioned approach with students who are struggling with education. The team at SVEF works with them to develop learning patterns that respect their personal learning style. The result is a more engaged, motivated and accomplished student who is ready to make learning a life-long value. This very same approach works with employees and yields tremendous results and productivity for your organization.


Muhammed Chaudhry is the President and CEO of Silicon Valley Education Foundation, a foundation dedicated to helping students achieve their entrepreneurial dreams.

Jim Blackie works for TriNet, a company that empowers nonprofits and small business to carry out their goals through effective HR resources. 

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